I was working outside the house the other day; clipping the overgrown honeysuckle into a much more abstract line. Thin but lengthy stems reaching up and around the post above the mailbox; without shoots to allow for free growth this spring and hopefully then a decent show of perfumed flowers when summer arrives.
Madame Veuve walking by stopped to say "bonjour monsieur". She walks past most days, often several times each day; she probably has already forgotten the earlier walk that day and she often says as she once again asks me my name that her memory is going, like her knees.
She laughs and we talk briefly about the weather. Spring is almost here I suggest, in the 18 celsius temperatures of the sunny afternoon. She shrugs and disagrees saying it is early days and more snow will probably fall, and besides the wind is still cold.
"Mais," she says, as she looks along the road and to the mountain line above us,
"Elles sont belles, les montagnes, mais c'est fini maintenant. Trop tard, trop vieille."
I tell her I didn't climb the Dent d'Oche last year, for some reason the opportunity didn't arise but I walked and climbed others.
"Ah", she replied, "la Dont d'Oche, j'ai 17 ans le première fois, 1941 quand j'ai monté la. Nous sommes parti à 2 heures le matin; ma cousine, son mari. C'est dur. Mais après St.Paul c'est beaucoup mieux. Ah, oui."
As she smiles distant memories coming back, she says goodbye and walks on up the road, her faltering aged steps slowly progressing and leaning on her stick as she takes a breather, looking into another garden, I wonder what was a 17 year old girl doing at 2 o'clock in the morning, in the dark climbing up through the woods, or even up along the quiet roads in 1941, in invaded France, with wall-to-wall German armies, up to a mountain which forms part of the French Swiss border, and which was known as an escape route to freedom for Allied troops and downed Airmen.
Was she at that age doing her bit? Was she in the Maquis, the resistance?